Take The Money

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This story could be about "Any Retailer USA." The names have been changed to protect the innocent. It does not reflect the majority but it certainly is happening in many locations across the country.

Imagine yourself out on a shopping excursion anxious to dig in to a weekend project of planting, maintenance and yard work when you find yourself just entering your favorite local retailer (fill in your favorite target here).

It’s a picture perfect Saturday morning in early May. Temperature at 10 a.m. is 67˚F. Humidity is down around 30 percent and there are light winds blowing at about 6 mph. There’s brilliant sunshine with the occasional white puffy cloud floating by.

As you leave your car to walk into the garden center, you notice the local bedding plant supplier’s truck just pulling out from the back nursery gates with a bountiful harvest of fresh plants blazing with color as they rest on the rolling racks being pushed into the yards for sale.

You hit the front apron and pass by every kind of mulch known to man stacked up on pallets 6 feet high. Visions of freshly mulched borders and beds dance in your head. No more weeds to pull. New mulch is like a fresh coat of paint and a breath of fresh air for your winter ravaged landscape.

Shopping baskets and flat carts are in abundance on the apron, not 150 yards away in a parking lot corral. You grab a flat cart noting the need for annuals, hanging baskets, maybe a perennial plant or two to freshen up the border, mulch for sure, and whatever else may strike your fancy that day.

You are making mental notes about exciting combinations of plant textures and flower colors in luscious coco-lined baskets fit for a place at Disney World but instead will be adorning your patio in a few short moments. Glimpses of exotic super large flowering hibiscus beckon to you at the far end of the apron. You begin to imagine the breathtaking splendor of these show stoppers potted up in two large planters on the back patio with under plantings of contrasting blooming annuals.

You wade across the apron and it’s a kaleidoscope of colorful annuals, perennials, and shrubs neatly displayed in groups, dripping from a fresh drink of water, and oh-so-clearly and invitingly signed with informative tidbits, selling features, cultural requirements, and – most importantly – the retail price.

All systems go! Credit card balance is no issue. You can almost imagine the photographer from Better Homes & Gardens doing a photo shoot later in the afternoon of your pride and joy. 

A Rude Awakening

As you finally enter the nursery gates you are greeted by a blow to the solar plexus. It’s every customer’s retail nightmare. You pivot your eyes from one side to another and quickly count the potential cash registers. Let’s see…there’s one, two, three, four, five and six. Now you are ready for the cashier head count. Okay here we go … a-one and a-two … and a-one and a-two …

You continue to bypass the registers and start to make a mental note on line #1 of how many customers are waiting in line to pay and what length the line is physically. You begin to do a slow boil as you reach customer number 12 on the first line, which ends somewhere between where the perennials end and the nursery stock begins about halfway back in the nursery.

Hoping beyond hope, you now examine line #2 and discover that not only does it have more customers on it than line #1, but it far exceeds what was, until now, the record-setting length of line #1 and actually bends around like a serpent due to physiological barriers designed to hold plants. You see that there are 15 customers on this line and that it actually goes in 3 different directions before you finally see where it comes to an end about two thirds of the way down the mulch wall.

Now for someone who might be visiting an amusement park, perhaps these lines would not be too daunting. The question becomes, to the average consumer, what is a reasonable expectation of how long they are willing to wait to give their money in trade to the retailer?

You whip around frantically in search of relief. Surely an assistant manager has come to his or her senses just in time to rally a couple of extra cashiers from the ranks, or even jump on Register #3 or #4 themselves to alleviate the situation. No assistant manager in sight. Okay, if not the ASM, then surely you can count on old reliable, the head cashier, to make things right. Unfortunately that doesn’t appear to be happening at the moment.

Well, you know you can always count on "Old Faithful" – the store manager. The garden department absolutely must be doing more business than any other department in the store this month. Knowing that store managers are keenly aware of where they are getting the bang for the buck and that the largest percentage of customers are going through the nursery at this point, then it’ll just be a minute or two before the manager makes the outdoor nursery circuit. Once they are aware of the problem, it’ll be fixed in a heartbeat. The last thing they would want to do is anger their customers or even worse, lose their business.

A minute passes by, then two and three. No relief in sight. In fact, now the people waiting on line begin to grumble. Some become outraged. I take note of a full flat cart loaded with live goods, soils, planters and fertilizer off to the side of one line. It’s been abandoned. I do a quick calculation in my head and realize that this retailer just lost about $150 on just that one sale. Multiply this throughout the day and it’s almost a sin to lose these potential sales of one of the highest turning product mixes in the entire store.

How long are you willing to wait in line for these goods? It’s one thing if there is a need for the products, i.e. – groceries. It’s another thing entirely if the items are "want" products. To me, customers are extremely tolerant, almost to the point of disbelief (my disbelief because I don’t have the average tolerance that it would take to wait on such lines).

This scenario I’ve described is a common occurrence, particularly in Northern parts of the country. It goes back to the garden center business being one that is so drastically different than what most operators in big box stores are used to that it leads to poor customer service and absolute lost sales. This is not a problem specific to lawn and garden in box stores, but it is definitely the poster child for bringing it to the forefront.

In my mind, there is probably no bigger retail fault than not eagerly and helpfully taking the money from consumers that are in a buying frenzy to give to the retailer. Congratulations to the retailers that do this with great dedication and to the others, if the shoe fits, figure out how to take the money!

Vinny Naab is owner of Naab Horticultural Marketing, LLC, a consultant to the horticulture market. Contact him at vincent_naab@haabhortmktg.com.

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